Ask Scary Mommy: My Dad Is Racist––What Do I Do About This?

Ask Scary Mommy: My Dad Is Racist (Grandpa Too), And Not Budging

June 17, 2020 Updated June 24, 2020

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Ask Scary Mommy is Scary Mommy’s new advice column, where our team of “experts” answers all the questions you have about life, love, body image, friends, parenting, and anything else that’s confusing you.

Dear Scary Mommy,

I struggle to find a way to articulate this, and I am too embarrassed to divulge these details to my friends for fear of judgment. I define myself as progressive, and I support Black Lives Matter, the LGBTQ+ community and vote to support these communities. The problem is that my dad and grandpa do not. Many of the older men in my family are racist. I have addressed their behavior with them countless times, and I have suggested resources for them to challenge their beliefs, but to no avail. They will not budge. They have agreed to not discuss these things in front of my children, and my mom helps enforce that, but I don’t think that’s enough. My dad and grandpa have always been good to me, and I do love them, but being around them makes me feel uncomfortable and hypocritical. What do I do?

I would topple Grandpa like a confederate statue. That’s what I’d do.

Okay, but seriously, I understand that this is a really hard, emotional process. You are definitely not alone. There are many people who have passively ignored their racist family members for far too long, and they are finally deciding that they can’t just ignore it any longer. I think this is a good thing.

What is complicated is that, once you have established that these folks are not willing to learn or evolve, then you have to make some hard choices about how you wish to engage with them. You can’t force them to be anti-racist. But you can choose who you allow in your life, and your children’s lives. You can choose to not enable their harmful and problematic ideals any longer.

I know you said they do not “discuss these things” in front of your children, but what things exactly? I mean, just because they aren’t casually tossing around racial slurs, does not mean that your children are not hearing/seeing/picking up on other racist behaviors and stereotypes. Micro-aggressions do not have a “micro” impact. They are harmful and painful.

And to be honest, the whole “nice” racist trope is old, tired and cancelled. If you’re racist, then you are not truly nice, or kind, or a good person. Because nice, kind, good people are willing to own their biases and work towards being a better person. It doesn’t sound like your dad and grandpa are willing to do that. In these cases a simple, “zip it old man river, or I’ll break your hip” will not suffice.

I don’t think anyone can tell you what to do here. You are going to do what you feel is best for your family. But, I can tell you that I would not allow anyone––including close family––to interact with my children (and especially not be left alone with them) if I knew they were racist and “would not budge.” Bye, Dad. Bye, Grandpa. Talk to me when you’re not being a trash human.

I know the work of dismantling white supremacy is on us (white folks), so we cannot automatically dismiss and cancel the “all lives matter” folks and those who are still struggling with their implicit bias and stereotypes. I mean, that’s what I’d like to do and I have done in the past, but I know that we all benefit from a white supremacist system, so we are all guilty of racism in various forms. We have to be willing to have hard conversations with folks who are open to listening and willing to learn. It’s on us to do that, with the hope that they will walk away from the conversation with a new POV to ponder (and that they won’t continue to traumatize Black and BIPOC folks with their bullshit).

There are some folks though who won’t budge, who have no interest in learning or evolving. You say that your dad and grandpa fall into that category. I assume, since you know them and love them, that is true. And if that is true, then they are complicit in a system that continually oppresses and kills Black men, women and children. Not the type of people I want to share a meal or a holiday with.

Black people are literally dying, and have been for centuries, as a direct product of systemic racism and white supremacy in this country. Now is not the time to be lukewarm about this. Time is all the way up. Even for the old folks. Grandparents don’t get a “free pass” here.

Maybe cutting them off will be the wake-up call they need to get their act together. We can only hope.

For a comprehensive list of anti-racism resources, go here.